January 6, 2019

Love God, Love His People

1st Sunday of Epiphany

First Lesson:  1 Kings 10:1-9

Second Lesson:  Ephesians 3:2-12

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2:1-12

Sermon Text:  1 John 4:7


Total curveball today from what was planned. Throughout the service, we’ve celebrated Epiphany. We were going to continue that in the sermon, talking about how the fact that Jesus is true God and true man means he is our perfect Savior.  I had one all written and everything. But…  Last weekend the sermon was about showing Christian love to others as we are compassionate, kind, gentle, forgiving, humble, etc. As I talked to people afterward, person after person made comments like, “Really struggling to show love right now.”  A couple of emails and texts I received sent the same message. And personally, there were some things that happened last week and the last few days that made me really struggle to show love, and not just to a few people.  Did you have that same struggle?  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you did.

Maybe we can blame some of it on post-holiday blues.  But the more and more people I talked to people, the more I realized how much all of us struggle to show love to all. I know we always struggle with this. But for whatever reason, with me and a lot of others, things reached the tipping point. So we’ll concentrate our energy on our struggle to show love, compassion, and kindness, and what God can do about that for us.

But we before we do that, let’s be totally honest. Showing such love - it is a huge problem. I can’t tell you how often it happens that we finish up a service and I’m in a good mood. Then someone will say something.  Or an email will come in.  Or I will remember what happened last week and I very quickly get annoyed.  The positive vibe is forgotten, and all of my attention is on who wronged, annoyed me, bothered me, and made we want to throw up my hands in frustration.  Another guess as to what you’re thinking. I bet more of a few of you are screaming this in your mind now: “That is exactly how I feel!”

And who can make us feel that way? Anyone. A family member who doesn’t do exactly what we want them to do. A coworker who lets us down. A parent who tells us something we don’t want to hear. Someone here at church who is doing something annoying. A boss or doctor giving bad news. The guy on the street who is always complaining. A politician or public figure whom we’ve met who has nothing to do with our lives who says something we don’t like.  People we know well, people we know professionally or through school, or people we don’t know at all – all of them can and often do wrong us, annoy us, bother us, and make us want to throw up our hands in frustration.

And it is no secret is it especially hard to show this love, compassion, and humility because Christmas is over.  It’s like we were little kids given too much sugar – ie – all the fun, good stuff before the holiday. Now comes the crash. We are cranky because the next holidays are Presidents’ Day and Valentine’s Day.  The 1st is a yawner and members here know my thoughts on the 2nd.  We don’t have a vacation soon. Winter started and we’re already sick of it.  Schedules at work/school ramp up in January. Due to the weather, we’re stuck inside, surrounded by some of the same people who drive us up walls.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Mix all this together and it’s really hard to show love, compassion, kindness, humility, and gentleness.  It’s easier to give in to the anger. To let the person who bothers us have it. To burn inwardly since we feel like we can’t say anything to the one who is, to us, causing the problem.  It’s easier to shut people out, lose ourselves in individual work, or hole up in our homes/rooms, only viewing people/the outside world from behind a screen.

If you can’t tell, I’m calling myself out on this as much if not more than I’m calling you out. From the moment I knew I really wanted to be a pastor, I promised myself two things. 1) I wouldn’t drink coffee. Much of my interactions with pastors as a child was having them breathe coffee breath on me. 2) I’d never be fake, slapping on a smile because the pastor has to smile. But the last couple of years, it has happened a few times where I’m smiling when people are looking, but when they turn away, it disappears and I go back to being in a foul mood, thinking about who annoys me, and the whole nine yards.  I hope that doesn’t make you think less of me - just being honest. I hope that all this helps you to be honest with yourself, for I am assuming that a large majority of you know exactly what I am talking about because you are feeling the same way.

But all this is crazy when you realize we should still be on a high, shouldn’t we?  I don’t know how many times we said it this year, but each year we make a huge point of saying Christmas hope, peace, joy, and love are not limited to December.  The hope we have as God’s children, the peace we have with God through Jesus, the joy of complete forgiveness, and the love of the Lord that shines brightly always – these are 24/7/365 blessings for each of us.  So why the funk?  Why the letdown?  Why the annoyance, anger, and frustration with others instead of compassion, gentleness, and kindness?

The obvious answer is sin. Put one sinner in a room with another and there will always be some problems. The more specific answer is that our sinful minds are fighting against everything we hear here and read in the Bible.  Our sinful minds are almost like a lawyer arguing with our Christian minds in a court of law. “I’m called to show compassion.”  “Yeah, but he doesn’t care about you.”  “I’m called to show gentleness.” “Yeah, but she is so annoying.  You have every right to be less than gentle.”  “I’m called to show kindness.” “Yeah, but they don’t even realize what they did to you.”  “I am called to show humility.”  “Yeah, but won’t that mean the person will just run over and take advantage of you again?”  I’ll say it again – I think you know exactly where I am coming from.  The high we should be on, the positive vibe we should have and have every reason to have as believers, well, our sinful minds want us to crash from that high and only focus on who annoys, bothers, and lets us down.  And since all our relationships are with other sinners, it’s not hard to find people who fit that bill.

So where do we go from here?  I could talk about how in spite of how much we annoy, bother, and let our Lord down, he still loves us.  The problem with that is that he is our holy Lord.  He is perfect.  He has no struggles to show love.  To simply tell you to love others as you are loved by your Lord is setting you (and myself) up to fail.  I could hammer on the commands to love, of which there are many in the Bible, but that would be more of a checklist of how often we have struggled and failed and how far we have strayed.  So what now?  

I think the main reason we struggle to show this love is because we base our decision to show love, compassion, kindness, etc. on the other person.  If someone is kind to me, I will be kind to them. If they are nasty, it will be really tough to show that kindness.  But if that were the case, we wouldn’t show any love, goodness, or gentleness to anyone, because in one way or another everyone, even those we know and love more than we know and love everyone, will fail us.  

But that is not how the love God calls us to have is to be.  The final 7 Commandments can be summarized with 3 words – love your neighbor.  The summary of the 1st 3? Love God. Notice loving God comes before loving the neighbor.  Why? Before we can love others, we have to love God.  “But,” you might say, “my love for God will always be lacking.  As a sinner, I often fail to show him love. Does that mean I can never really love others, serve them humbly, be compassionate, etc.? 

I understand, but why do you think we do what we do here?  Why do you think you are constantly encouraged to be in God’s Word?  Why?  Because the focus here, and the focus in the Word, is on God’s love.  Lately it has been the love shown at Christmas in sending a Savior.  In just a few months, it will be about the love of a Savior who marched from the cross.  After that it will be about the love of a Savior who rose for our forgiveness.  But realize whenever we are in that Word, and whatever season it is here at church, the emphasis has always been and will always be on love.  God’s love.

And as we are in/around that Word, and as the Spirit does his thing, what happens? We grow in faith.  We grow in our understanding of what God’s done and what it means.  We grow in our confidence all the promises of help/blessing God has made are promises he will keep.  We grow in our appreciation for all the guidance, comfort, and encouragement our Lord gives us.  So what?  Well, if someone has done something amazing for you which you did not deserve, if that person never lets you down, and if that person is always there for you at all times, how do you feel about that person?  You love them.

God loves us.  God forgives us through his Son.  God is with us through all we face.  God will use all things, even the bad stuff for our good.  And God has a home in heaven waiting for us, a home won by our Savior.  All that puts love in our hearts.  Is it a perfect love?  No.  The sinful lawyer in our brains doesn’t take a hands off approach with God and what he has done. But the believer in us knows the truth, loves the truth, and loves the Lord who made this truth reality.

And, I believe, that is the answer.  How do we show love to those who annoy, bother, frustrate, and madden us?  In a way, we don’t.  We show love to God.  We are humble with the annoying because we love our Lord and he calls us to serve them.  We are gentle to the arrogant, because we love our Lord and know he is first in our lives.  We are compassionate to the angry, because we love our Lord and he knows the angry need our help. I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about people.  But when we focus first on loving the Lord who so loves us, and then focus on showing him our love as we deal with others, it becomes easier to do.  Why?  Because it is not about what the person has or has not done to us.  It’s about our appreciation for what our Lord has done and will do for us.

I said this at the end of last week’s sermon: “Will it be easy to show such love? No.”  I glossed over that too quickly, thus we’re doing what we’re doing today. The struggle is/will be mighty. Because of us and our weaknesses. Because of others and theirs.  But remember where the focus needs to be first and foremost: On our Lord, on our Savior, and on the grace and love God has shown us.  With a focus on him and his love, we serve others as we serve him, putting the love he put into our hearts into practice.  And we close with these encouraging, love-filled words from St. John… “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God, because God is love.”  May that love fill our hearts today, and may our glad response to it be to love our Lord, a love that shows as we love his people. Amen.